Charlotte Hornets

With playoff hopes slim, Charlotte Hornets must take a hard look at this rotation

Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford says the eight to ten games after the upcoming All-Star break will determine a lot about the rotation the rest of the season.
Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford says the eight to ten games after the upcoming All-Star break will determine a lot about the rotation the rest of the season. AP

It’s time for the Charlotte Hornets to start thinking seriously, and critically, about what can be salvaged from this disappointing season.

That the Hornets were drilled at home by the Toronto Raptors Sunday, 123-103, isn’t by itself cause to make changes to the rotation. Rather, it’s the direction of this team, at 23-33 and on a four-game losing streak.

They have 26 games left, and 15 of those are on the road, where they currently win one out of every three games. The Philadelphia 76ers currently hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. At 23-33, the Hornets are eight games behind the Sixers in the loss column. That’s a bad bet to reach the postseason, any way you look at it.

I asked Hornets coach Steve Clifford postgame Sunday when, in his view, it would be time to change up the rotation and play the kids more. Clifford replied that the first eight to 10 games after the upcoming All-Star break would decide that.

This is a tired team badly in need of that weeklong break from games. The last four days were basketball hell: A game on the West Coast (Portland), a game in high elevation (Salt Lake City), a cross-country flight and a day game at home against a team that might win the Eastern Conference.

However, what we are seeing right now is about more than a scheduling booby trap. This is an expensive, aging roster that was assembled to make some noise in the postseason. For a variety of reasons, this group hasn’t performed. You see the occasional encouraging sign, such as beating the defending champion Golden State Warriors in Oakland, but this team has never managed to win more than three in a row this season. To think they will string together eight consecutive victories sounds like fantasy.

Assuming no such miracle occurs over the rest of February, the Hornets should spend March and April evaluating, and redirecting playing time toward the young guys: Rookies Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon, and newly acquired center Willy Hernangomez.

I’m not saying shut down Nic Batum or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but some readjustment will be obligatory. Clifford doesn’t disregard that.

“Sure, you evaluate guys, or once you’re eliminated you do it. (But) I wouldn’t look to do that now,” Clifford said.

That is reasonable, so long as Clifford looks critically going forward at what this team is and isn’t.

“I think we have it in us (to still reach the playoffs), and that’s what I just talked to them about,” Clifford said of his postgame message to the players.

“When you start looking at a month from now, (that) I’m going to do this, it doesn’t work that way.”

Not yet, anyway, but likely soon. Like Clifford, I’m uneasy with “gifting” young players minutes they haven’t yet earned. Taking minutes from, for instance, Jeremy Lamb and Treveon Graham, isn’t fair in a perfect world. But the Hornets’ world is anything but perfect right now.

So prepare to play the kids, figure out what the future holds, and start forming a fresh solution.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell